Wealth and Lordship in Late Medieval Literature
have examined economic ethics in late medieval England from the point of view of theologians and philosophers, the authors of pastoral manuals and guides to conduct and sermons. Incorporated into those texts were condemnations of avarice, usury and prodigality; praise for the virtues of liberality, moderation and justice; and promotion of the concepts of the just price, good lordship and the common good. In order to convey meaning and relevance to their readers or hearers, writers looked to the secular world for illustrations. As I have shown, they not only drew upon the activities of merchants and usurers, craftsmen, traders and labourers but also considered examples drawn from landowning and noble levels of society. I am drawing upon literary evidence in this chapter because many fourteenth-and fifteenth-century literary works were informed by ideas similar to those found in theological and pastoral works, but literary works were able explore the problems of economic ethics in different ways. I have argued that economic ethics were intended to apply to all members of late medieval society, but in this chapter I do not intend to discuss the criticisms of idle labourers, fraudulent merchants and traders, or usurers in late medieval English literature as they have been very well addressed elsewhere. Instead, I will focus upon the portrayal of lords and rulers, both as offenders and as ethical role models. Late medieval English writers had concerns about economic changes. They valued conservatism and wished for a society of a kind that preceded the expansion of commerce, harking back to a prelapsarian or a mythical golden age, or a society where all abided by Christian teachings and the virtues.